Wednesday, 5 September 2007

French neighbours

When Ian and I were in France we got to meet our prospective neighbours! I seem to enjoy writing about my neighbours so here goes. The land that joins Ian's is owned by Herman, a sixty something Englishman who has lived in France for the last 20 years. Herman lives by himself (and his recently acquired dog) in the run down 'Moulin'. He keeps a few sheep, grows herbs and sells them at the local market and lives a fairly basic life with little money and company. The road and bridge into the Moulin were declared impassable to traffic 20 years ago and his one functioning vehicle collapsed at the strain of driving across what remains of the bridge while we were there. As we left he was contemplating an alternative exit through a 'chemin rural' (basically a bridleway) that will definitely not be passable in the rain unless you have a tractor! After his day at the market he calls into to see some of the other neighbours and enjoys a glass of wine or two before he staggers back across the field. We had met him before but on this occasion he started off by being particularly gloomy; telling us of how cold it is in winter, how hard it is to make a living and how many English people come out and then return. However, after a while he mellowed a little and we got a glimpse of his humour and more devilish side as he told us stories about the other neighbours. I think Herman is someone for whom the glass is mostly half empty. What I learnt from that is that if you are a miserable bastard in England you will probably be a miserable bastard in France. Mind you, I think that with Herman some of it is a bit of a dramatic act put on for visitors.

The house that borders the land near the road was recently bought by an English couple and we called in and introduced ourselves. Peter and Hazel run a successful entertainment business in the UK that they plan to continue with but are in the process of moving the majority of their life over to France. With them came their cat and Peter's 84 year old father Albert. When we met Albert he was a little down as he had just returned from hospital, where they had told him to stop smoking. After 60 years of nicotine he quit cold-turkey and it turned out that some of his moods and symptoms were caused by nicotine withdrawal. We met him a second time a week later and he had really perked up after getting some nicotine patches. Albert was probably the most alert out of the lot of us. He had been into cycling as a young man and told Ian and I about the bikes he used to ride (we turned up the first time on our bikes). He had worked as a master carpenter and his hands were badly arthritic (and had been for about 40 years) but it didn't stop him from doing anything! Peter and Hazel had finally decided to make a major change in their lives after Hazel's parents died and Peter had a potentially life threatening illness that had made him seriously rethink his priorities. In their business lives Peter is a record producer and one coincidence was that they had recorded many times in the studio in London that my brother has bought (and is hoping to renovate). It was strange to think that when Ian and I stayed there last New Years Eve we slept in the control room where Peter had sat and sweated many times!

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